Friday, November 26, 2010

The Aussie Diary, Day 8

Today: The Great Barrier Reef.

As you know, this is one of the Wonders of the World. Steph and I are very excited to get to see it up close and personal. We’ve signed up with a tour operator who takes you to two different sites on the reef and lets you dive and snorkel them. Even if you’re not certified to dive, they do an “introductory dive” where they teach you the basics on the trip out and the dive master takes you down for about 20 minutes. The rest of the time you snorkel. The tour company picks you up from your hotel, but since our hotel is at the marina, we didn’t need a ride. We wake up early and were at the boat 15 minutes early for the 730am boarding. As the boat fills up, a group of people from Spain come along looking for a seat. I have been studying Spanish in school, so I figure this is a good opportunity to practice: “Ustedes quiren sentir aqui?”(Would you all like to sit here?) I say, without much confidence. Maite (I would later learn her name) turns around with a look of surprise on her face and says “Yes!”. So, she and her friend Lucio sit with us and we go back and forth with their broken English and my barely passable Spanish, but we’re able to understand one another, which I find quite gratifying.
OK, so, as we get ready to depart, the staff come by with ginger tablets for motion sickness, I got sick once 4 years ago going up windy mountain roads in St.. Lucia, so I figure it couldn’t hurt. I would be proven correct. It turned out to be the choppiest weather conditions for boat driving one can imagine. Imagine as if you are in a boat that is jumping a ramp every 15 feet or so, this was our experience. We had scoped out a seat up front so we could have a pretty view, well, this is the last place you want to be when the boat is being bounced around. So, I quickly make my way out back to the open air. There I find there is a “sick area” that has been set up with staff members holding napkins and sick-bags for everyone who comes out. So it’s me and a bunch of Asian women out back, but our band of sissies would steadily grow as time went on. Even Steph, Mrs. Cast Iron Stomach herself, would join us after a time. I eventually decide to head to the second level of the boat to see if it’s any better with a stronger wind in my face. Upstairs we discover that there are nice big seats that we can lay down on. This is a Godsend. The trip out to the reef is about 45 minutes and I spent most of it there. After a long while of laying down I am feeling much better but it has begun to rain so we’re getting wet continuing to hang out up top, so we head back inside. This was a mistake. I hadn’t been seated inside for more than 35 seconds before the illness came back with a vengeance. It hadn’t been this strong the entire trip. I made it outside just in time for The Big Moment. As I lay over the railing donating my breakfast to the fish in the sea below, the boat slowly comes to a halt. Almost as if my retching was the cue that the captain was waiting for to stop the boat. If I had stayed lying down for 2 more minutes I would have been fine. Figures.

Fortunately, I felt fine after we got stopped. One of the other passengers wasn’t so lucky. She was out on the sick-deck for most of the trip but then her body had enough turbulence and threw her into full blown panic attack. No matter what anyone did for her they couldn’t calm her down. They actually had to send a rescue chopper out and fly her and her husband back to the main land. Not THAT’S a crappy start to a day if I’ve ever seen one. The rest of us who were planning to dive then proceeded to get strapped into our gear. In Oz they don’t grow their people as large as we do in the US, so, there wasn’t a wetsuit my size. No worries, the water was 30 degrees centigrade so it was plenty warm. Plus diving without a suit made me feel like a tough guy. We get the gear on and we’re able to practice breathing through our machines, and it was strange. Breathing was no longer an involuntary action but required a conscious decision on your part every time. The instructor took another group down first and then it was our turn. We get in the water and I put my face in the water getting used to the feeling and then we’re taken down. It’s at this moment that I realize that Steph is no longer with me. I figure something is wrong but I have no way to ask questions right now. Our group of 4 is now 2 and we go down with the dive master. I’m pretty sure we weren’t down for a full 20 minutes but it was fun getting to follow the fish for a little while. We didn’t get much opportunity to swim away from the instructor, so, I felt restricted. Before I knew it, we were back up. Being certified to dive would be fun, I think. This dive barely whets your appetite. I return to the surface and climb back on board the boat after my dive to find my wife sitting on the steps looking quite dejected. It turns out that when she tried to submerge with the diving equipment on, her natural instinct to breath naturally proved too strong and she couldn’t go through with it. She was very disappointed and I was upset for her. But we both got to go out and snorkel together which, in reality, wasn’t any less fulfilling than my dive since we were looking at the exact same reef only 20-30 feet lower. I didn’t see any fish on the dive that Steph and I didn’t see snorkeling. This seemed to make her feel better. The second dive location was even better than the first. We saw lots of parrot fish (who were fond of defecating in our general area. Big ones too!) There were crazy looking sea slugs and huge clams and evey colored type of fish you can imagine. It was a great time. After we’re done with the reef they bring us celebratory cheese and wine. I was dreading the trip back to shore given our experience on the way out, but the wind had died down and it was smooth sailing all the way home. It wasn’t a day without incident, but it ended on a perfect note.

I slept quite soundly that night, but I could have sworn that our bed was swaying all night long…

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